Written by GCI 2020 Brand Ambassador Doris Wang
Back in summer of 2016 (my first summer in Seattle) I planned and went on what I thought was the best PNW road trip ever. We went from Seattle to the Oregon coast, cut into Portland, down to Crater Lake National Park, and then cut back up through Bend, Oregon before returning home.
After living in the greater Seattle area for 4+ years, I’ve updated my ideal West Coast road trip itinerary a bit, tacking on a few extra days and adding some more locations. My dream PNW road trip starts in Seattle, hits up 4 national parks in Oregon and Washington, and includes day hiking as well as a few off-the-grid adventures.
Things to Consider When Planning a PNW Road Trip
- Are we bringing a dog with us? (No pups on this trip – most trails inside of national parks are not dog-friendly.)
- Where can we camp or find a budget-friendly hotel/Airbnb? (This trip includes car camping.)
- How many hours do I want to spend on the road?
- How many miles do I want to drive total for the entire trip?
- How many days can I take off for this road trip?
Day 1: Seattle to Olympic National Park
One of my favorite lakes at Olympic National Park is Lake Crescent. It has a cute lodge situated on the shore of the lake called Lake Crescent Lodge. There are hikes for everyone here, from the family-friendly Marymere Falls (1.8 miles RT) to Mount Storm King (4 miles RT), which is more suited for the adrenaline junkie with its rocky climb and sheer cliffs. My to-do list also includes kayaking around Lake Crescent!
From Lake Crescent, head on down to Quinault, WA and camp there for a night so that you can head down to the Oregon Coast the following day. Nearby campsites include Falls Creek, Willaby, and Gatton Creek Campground. If you’re up for a splurge, there’s a lodge right on the lake called Lake Quinault Lodge.
My personal itinerary calls for car camping, though – and there are a few necessities I always bring for this. My camp kitchen box is like a grab-and-go kitchen, containing cooking oil, seasoning, pans, etc. Another must-have is a good camp chair! My current favorite is the GCI MaxRelax Pod Rocker.
Miles driven: 207 miles
Day 2: Oregon Coast
From Quinault, drive south to Cannon Beach, OR to check out the massive Haystack Rock. After the beach I’d highly recommend stopping by Tillamook Creamery, a well-known cheese and ice cream distributor in the area. You can take a tour of the cheese factory, sample their cheese, and pick up a scoop or two of their ice cream!
After Tillamook, drive further south to South Beach State Park in Newport, OR and spend the night in a yurt! A lot of the local state parks in Washington and Oregon have yurts and cabins you can rent that are super affordable.
Miles driven: 256 miles
Day 3: Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor
From Newport, OR head further south to Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, where you’ll get more jaw-dropping views of the PNW coast. End the day with camping or renting another yurt at Harris Beach State Park.
Miles driven: 201 miles
Day 4: Crater Lake National Park to Bend, OR
From the coast, drive east and hit up Crater Lake National Park. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States. If you are up for some cold lake water, hike down the Cleetwood Cove Trail for a swim in Crater Lake!
Afterwards, hop back in the car and drive to Bend, OR and stay the night in Bend. Whether it be camping, a hostel, or hotel, this town has it all, and is situated in a very outdoorsy area.
Miles driven: 305 miles
Day 5: From Eastern OR to Mount Rainier National Park
Wake up bright and early, drive 25 miles north, and hit up Smith Rock State Park for a quick hike or climb! This park is known for great rock climbing, and has some great hiking trails.
From Smith Rock, go check out Painted Hills, OR. This geologic site is super unique-looking and worth a stop. From there, cross back over the Washington border and camp at Mount Rainier National Park for a night. The park itself has some great campgrounds that you can book ahead of time!
Miles driven: 386 miles
Day 6: Mount Rainier National Park to North Cascades National Park
A lot of national parks have multiple entrances, and for Mount Rainier National Park I would recommend checking out the Longmire entrance and their visitor center. From Longmire, drive north to North Cascade National Park and end this road trip at Diablo Lake!
Miles driven: 213 miles
Total miles driven in 6 days: 1,568 miles
I am a person that tends to like to jam pack in as much as possible! There’s so much to see and do in the PNW, the list is endless. A great thing to have while visiting all these national parks is the America the Beautiful Pass, which is good for a year and covers entrance fees into all national parks.
One final tip – be sure to check if you can reserve campsites ahead of time or if the campground is on a first-come, first-serve basis. Car camping is probably the most budget-friendly thing you can do while on a road trip!